I was trying not to let the pain show as I pulled hand over hand on the small green fibrous rope that was closing the net on our hopeful catch. My hands were cut, my back was sore, and my throat was dry as we pulled together on the nets. There wasn’t much conversation as the diesel motor coughed and the small boat swayed. I watched them pull in those nets for probably the millionth time, backs working rhythmically and steadily. Binh’s small frame bulged with muscle and now I understood why, squid fishing isn’t easy.
I asked Bihn if they fished every day, “Yes everyday, when no rainy we fishing.” Our catch that day was only 5kg’s.
“Binh is this a small catch?”
“Everyday different, sometime 10kg some time 30kg. It’s ok, everyday different.”
I think Dad must of seen I was getting tired as the sun beat my hatless head because they called it a day at one in the afternoon. We sat silently in the boat as it chugged us toward shore, Dad controlling the throttle with a thick string and content smile. Beads of sweat fell from our foreheads and Dad passed around some sugary cookies.
We had met Dad, Mom, their twenty eight year old son Bihn and Uncle, Dad’s brother, the day before on Hidden Beach in Hoi An. Ash was snapping pictures of the curiously small basket boats that spotted the beach of the shining South China Sea. A lady carrying two buckets on a bamboo pole invited us to take pictures of her family that was approaching in a basket boat after a day of squid fishing. Bihn called out to us as they were heading home, “Come eat rice,” so we followed the family down a sandy path to their grey squat concrete home that sat amid bent palm trees a couple hundred meters from the sea.
We sat smiling at each other as fresh squid bounced around our mouths mixed with basil and mint, all washed down with rice wine served from a juice bottle. Bihn suddenly looked at me, “You come fish?”
“What’s that Bihn?” I wasn’t sure I heard him right.
“You come fish tomorrow at sic morning?”
“Fishing?” I repeated trying to tone down my rising excitement. To make sure I heard right I made a rod casting motion and fought an invisible fish.
I looked at Uncle, he sat smoking with a half smile, Dad’s wrinkles shone and Ash’s elbows dug into my ribs, “You should go babe!”
“Ok that sounds great! Where do I meet you?”
“Sic morning my home, eat breakfast and go fishing.”
The next day Ash was waiting on the beach with Mom as our fishing adventure ended and our basket boat dug into shore.
“How was it?” Ash asked squeezing my hand.
“It was great, and harder than I thought it would be,” It really was.
We walked back to the house where more people had gathered, we were the honoured guests. We feasted on fish soup, squid and rice and laughed at our black ink stained teeth. Mom gave us cookies and Bihn cut open coconuts so we could drink the water. As the rice wine was being passed around I looked at the smiling eyes that surrounded us and breathed easily.
With the sun starting to set it was time to go. We all hugged tightly as we said our goodbyes and snapped some final pictures together. We were sent on our way carrying coconuts and our full hearts. Grandma and Mom squatted beside each other on the sandy embankment waving goodbye and watching the sun go down in pinks and yellows.
My hands hurt as I gripped my bike handles and my heart was happy and humbled as I reflected on the day. The work was hard and simple and flowed with the weather. The family was together every night enjoying the fruit of their labour. I learned that they sold the squid in the market for roughly five dollars a kg. I thought about the pride in the fathers eyes as he showed me Bihn’s blurry wedding photos and the joy in Uncle’s face as I learned about his two kids. There was an uncomplicated steady joy that lingered around that squat grey home and that sat in those deep wrinkles around Dad’s eyes. The family shared everything they had with us, and when I sheepishly offered money for their generosity I was sternly refused. Those deep, simple smiles and that easy laughter were worth more than all the paper in our pockets.